WINCHESTER, ENGLAND – The tinkling sounds of the trebles in the Winchester Cathedral choir ended a memorial service Monday for John Jacobs, one of the great men of European golf, who died on 13 January aged 92. It was held on as fair a day as Jacobs, the eminent golf teacher, would have wished for, though it was probably a bit too sunny for him to have gone fishing.
As the jaunty notes of the song Winchester Cathedral rang around the flying buttresses, the vaulted ceiling, the nave, the transepts and the stained-glass windows of one of Britain’s finest places of worship – and Britain has a few – those present cherished their memories of a man for whom no one had a bad word – and everyone had many good ones.
For professional golf, this was as near to the passing of royalty as it could possibly be. Jacobs was a past Ryder Cup player and captain, a club pro par excellence, an innovator, the first director of the European Tour, unarguably the father of modern golf coaching and most important of all, a true gentleman.
Peter Alliss gave the first of six eloquent tributes by laymen. Jo Jacobs, a devoted daughter, played Danny Boy, one of her father’s most beloved songs. Bernard Gallacher read one of St Paul’s letters to the Church in Rome. Dr David Balfour, the family’s general practitioner, recited a poem about fishing called Heaven by Rupert Brooke, and Barrie Ashworth, Jacobs’s good friend, told some fishy anecdotes.
Ken Schofield, Jacobs’s successor as European Tour executive director, praised Jacobs’s foresight in setting up the tour. John O’Leary, the one-time Irish Open champion, spoke of Jacobs’s influence on Irish golf. Sky Sports commentator Ewen Murray told a charming story of how he helped Jacobs give up smoking.
With its old fashioned liturgy, robed officials – three canons, one of whom was vice dean and canon chancellor of the cathedral -– it was as English a ceremony as Yorkshire pudding and as appropriate because Jacobs was Yorkshire and English.
The words that may remain longest in the mind were those of Butch Harmon, who had flown in from the US and was visibly moved as he delivered his tribute. Tears were forming in his eyes, and the words were faint and faltering when he said: “I stand here today because of John Jacobs not because of me. There will never be a greater teacher in my mind than the great John Jacobs.”